A Garden in Spite of Itself, Part 2: All the Pretty Flowers

My mother is an amazing gardener. Her yard is always a lush, flourishing mass of foliage and blooming things and trees that attracts all manner of wildlife from butterflies to bluebirds to cotton-tailed rabbits. Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, their ruby throats glinting in the sun. Tortoises plod through the dappled shadows. Hers is not just a garden. It’s an aesthetically delightful ecosystem that she planned and put together herself.

If there’s a gene for such green witchery, I did not inherit it. I kill house plants. I kill cactus in pots, ficus and ferns and at least one rubber tree plant. I’ve killed pothos. Nobody kills pothos. I’m pretty sure it’s immune to death. But I did it. My cat might have helped by attacking it on a semi-regular basis, shredding its leaves and eventually, I think, peeing in its pot. Repeatedly. But still, the plant was in my care when the cat killed it. So I think, karmically speaking, it goes on my record.

But just the same, a couple of years ago, my partner and I decided we wanted a garden. It would get us outdoors more, give us something new we could do together, and make our front yard look less like a vacant lot. I thought, What’s the worst that could happen? I should never ask myself that. I am very good at visualizing the worst. I saw us buying all the new expensive plants and putting them in the ground and fertilizing and watering. Then I saw plants shriveling and dying one by one until our garden looked like a botanical graveyard.  The neighbors shook their heads. I felt sad and vaguely ashamed. Or, I thought, things might not die. They might grow and flourish. Plants would bloom spontaneously at my touch and neighbors would say, Look at her pretty little garden! I decided to risk it.

So we had prepared the bed (See Part 1). The time had come to populate our little growing space. And this is where, I must say, I’m proud of my mother. She wanted very badly to tell us how to plan and what to pick for a successful gardening experience right off the bat. I told her, No, we have to learn this ourselves. The whole process, from the ground up. (And yes, I’m a little proud of that pun.)

We wanted to choose everything and arrange it all on our own. So we went to Home Depot and wandered the aisles of the garden center. And that’s when I almost had a nervous breakdown. There were so many choices! And variables to consider. And here we were ready to just pop things in our basket willy-nilly and take them home. At least my partner was. She was excited about the garden and ready to dive in the deep end. I had thought I could follow her lead. But I just don’t work that way.

I am a methodical kind of person. When embarking on a new endeavor, my nature is to research it thoroughly, taking all variables into account, weighing them against each other, and eventually making informed, careful decisions thus maximizing our chances of success. Of course, using my method, spring and maybe summer would have passed before I made my carefully-researched choices for our garden. And B knows that.

We’re going to go, she said, and just pick what we like. So we did. She would hold up a plant and say, How about this? I would remove the little plastic tab thingy from its pot and begin reading out loud about the plant’s sun exposure and climate preference, its eventual height and breadth, water requirements, etc. B would listen as far as the name, make a decision, put the plant back or in the cart, and move on with me trailing behind, still studying the little plastic thingy and muttering to myself. Soon I had a whole handful of little plastic thingies and I was seriously starting to lose my shit. B made soothing noises and led me to the checkout line. Once the purchase was made, I was okay again.

Until we got home. Now it was time to decide what to put where. We had a row of small shrubs already planted and a big expanse of bare dirt waiting for the rest. I started arranging pots on the dirt thinking about all the variables again. Were they annuals or perennials? How tall would they be? What color? Spring or summer bloomers? I rearranged. And rearranged again. And finally B saved me again.

“That looks perfect,” she said.

“You think I should put the Dusty Miller over…”

“It’s perfect the way it is.”

“Or maybe move the Salvia to…”

“Why don’t you start digging holes?” She said and handed me a shovel.

And that’s how we got all our pretty flowers planted. And miracle of miracle, only a couple of them died and the rest flourished and bloomed.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Killing Tomatoes

Leave a comment


  1. Very beautiful! See, you don’t have such a brown thumb after all. You were starting to sound like my mother in the first part of the post. She can kill almost any living plant in record speed.

  2. I envy those people who have that natural “green thumb”!

    • Jeez. Me too. Though I know my Mom knows a whole lot about plants and had to spend time learning all that, I’m also pretty sure green leafy things just really like her too.

  3. Ooh, I love gardening posts! And what fun to know about other people’s misadventures 🙂 It seems we have a few things in common lady…..even mothers with green thumbs.

  4. Great job… and great writing. Makes me miss having a garden of my own.

  5. Anita gallagher

     /  March 29, 2012

    Shade or sun very important! Pass along plants are the best and hardiest, remember last years pumpkin/ squash vine. It really bugs me that the big box garden centers sell stuff that WON’T GROW in the area you are gardening in! Currently I am drooling over the beautiful blue delphiniums that Lowes has for sale as well as lovely fushias. They WON’T survive the Mississippi Gulf Coast climate. You can grow delphiniums for me, fushias will do well on your back deck and I can visit them. Love Mom

    • I want to plant that butterfly magnet stuff you have – lantana? Delphiniums are okay too. I looked it up. Pretty blue. Fuchsia is funny looking. I don’t like it. And it’s hard to plant stuff on my back deck. I thought plants preferred dirt. (See part one.) Love, #1 daughter

  6. Much better planning going into your garden than we did in ours. Lots of hard work but such fun, isn’t it? 😉

  7. This is so damn funny. I know I say that over and over again when I visit your site, but I swear to God, I’m always so entertained. If I were you, I too would be proud of your from-the-ground-up pun–very good.

    My Sara has taken over our gardening efforts over the past year, and I have to admit, she’s pretty good at it, given her history. In the past she has kiled house plant after house plant and replaced them over and over, so that no one realized her poor record when it came to plant assasination.

    Can’t wait for part 3!


    • Thanks again, Kathy. You’re really good for my ego. As fellow former plant assassin (I love that), Sara gives me hope. Punnily yours, T.

  8. Brilliant! Now it is starting to establish, you will be pleasantly surprised at how many new plants will eventually spring up, once you get wildlife dropping by and ‘accidentally’ bringing new seeds with them! (The next trick is learning what is a weed and what is a new migrant plant!) Good luck!!

    • Oopsy. I didn’t think of that and may have already pullled up something new and interesting. I’ll watch more carefully from now on. this could be fun. I have a friend who’s always telling me about what surprises pop up in her compost pile every year. Thanks for reading!

  9. hahaha, i love this. i think this is one of my faves among your writings, so many puns – directed at self, hahaha. btw, that’s some lush greens and violets you got in the end. B should also be commended, I guess. 🙂 and what did your mother say? 🙂

    hello, Tori… it’s summer over here already. happy times to you and loved ones… 🙂

  1. Sun and colours « Blinks of time

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